Winter 2013


TigerTurf field scores on environmental friendliness

The synthetic turf football field in Ellerslie (Auckland, New Zealand) was recently the subject of a number of environmental studies, including a long-term water quality study (ongoing).  The initial study intended to reassure local residents that the release of gases from the infill would not be detrimental to their health. The long-term study on water quality is intended to show that leachate in the drainage water is not harmful to the downstream environment.

Auckland (New Zealand) Council approved the Sports Field Capacity Development Programme some time ago. A part of this programme is intended to upgrade existing natural grass fields to synthetic turf, in order to increase the availability of sports fields to the public no matter what the weather conditions. Michaels Avenue Reserve in the city district of Ellerslie is the first of 37 synthetic turf sports fields to be developed by the Auckland Council. It enjoys great popularity among local residents in their leisure time and for playing sports: it has a wetland, walkways amongst rare trees, and also football and cricket fields.

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New Zealand had just won the tender for the supply of the synthetic turf and the construction of the new synthetic turf field at Michaels Avenue Reserve when local residents raised objections. The objections related to the potential environmental impact on this pristine reserve of synthetic turf in general and the infill of crumb rubber in particular in this pristine reserve, where no chemicals are permitted and which is bordered by a community group that actively protects the reserve and its no-spray policy. The local residents in Michaels Avenue had united in the protection of their environment against any detrimental effects. Together with members of the nearby Michael Park School, they presented their concerns to Auckland Council. Compounds in the infill could, under the influence of sun and rain, end up in the environment, which would be harmful to both air and water quality.

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New Zealand scientists conducted extensive research into the quality of air and water, with a positive outcome for TigerTurf 

Auckland Council commissioned an immediate investigation into the potential for compounds in the rubber to be off-gassed into the environment. After reviewing international literature, a series of ‘worst-case scenario’ experiments were set-up in a laboratory and air quality within the enclosed headspace analysed for potentially harmful chemicals. Supporting the laboratory results were investigations into on-site air quality at Michaels Avenue Reserve and an existing 2-year old synthetic turf field.
Auckland Council also commissioned a long-term (two-year) study to be carried out. In the period of the study the quality of the drainage water from the synthetic turf pitch will be monitored to assess whether dissolved metals are present in the drainage water from the completed field. A team of scientists from Auckland Council’s Research, Investigations and Monitoring Unit (RIMU), Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS) and from Renovate Turf Consultants were engaged to carry out all studies. 

Within the guidelines
The results of the off-gassing experiments were conclusive. The concentrations of substances (mainly hydrocarbons) released from rubber crumb were well within workplace exposure standards and results from air quality tests in the field were well within the more stringent National Ambient Air Quality guidelines. These are the strictest values that New Zealand has. Moreover, the results are fully in line with the results of testing previously conducted in other countries. 

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The long-term study is planned to continue for two years so that an assessment can be made of how the composition of the field discharge water changes as the field ages. The local stakeholders were kept up-to-date throughout the research and were reassured that the field would not be detrimental to the wetland on site (the drainage water goes elsewhere) or to the health of the users or of the schoolchildren and local residents from gases and dust particles.

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According to Stephen Stones, director of TenCate Grass Asia-Pacific, this study will provide answers to what has up till now been a gap in the full understanding of the impact of synthetic turf fields on the environment. ‘Using the TenCate global network we were able to assist the Council with information and studies from around the world’, he said. ‘The international research that has been carried out has concentrated on heat, airborne contaminants and the impact of recycled rubber on human health, but little is known about the real impact on waterways from the run-off from fields. As a TenCate subsidiary, TigerTurf is proud to be associated with the long-term study monitoring the quality of stormwater from a synthetic turf field.’

TigerTurf would like to acknowledge Dr Marke Jennings-Temple from Renovate Turf Consultants and Dr Martin Neale from RIMU for their help and contributions to this article.

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